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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Kenneth Iverson, June 11, 1999. Interview I-0083. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Reluctance to get involved in politics gives way

Iverson relaxed his ban on political involvement as his company grew, even though getting involved in politics may have clashed with his principles. Iverson recalls meeting Bill Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, who gave Iverson some incentives to open a plant in Blytheville.

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Oral History Interview with Kenneth Iverson, June 11, 1999. Interview I-0083. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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JM: How about your reflection generally? You're setting up and really building a business from the mid-sixties forward. What was your perspective on the typical southern state house and legislature in those years and the nature of the politics that unfolded in those places, insofar as it had implications for you and the business? I ask in part because your early experiences were in a different part of the country. Coming in and observing how southern politics is operating, what kind of impressions did it make on you? KI: I don't know. Southern politics -- when I first came here in 1962 -- was unusual for me. I was not used to politics being run that way. But I felt comfortable with it. I found it very interesting really. I remember meeting Fritz Hollins when he was leaving as Governor. I always enjoyed it although I was never a strong participant because our business was not focussed on something that was political. We only got involved in it when we began to build plants all over the United States, and we wanted to get tax concessions in order to make it more reasonable for doing that. Then we got more involved in that area of government. JM: I wanted to draw you out on that point. Was there any contradiction between your professed corporate value on the one hand -- that you disfavored corporate subsidies in any form -- and then the whole tax concession issue? It has become such an important one for plant sitings, obviously, so your reflections would be--. KI: That was interesting, and probably there is a little bit of conflict between our principles and what it was necessary to do at that time. As companies more and more required that they [received] tax concessions, our own people got involved in that. The cost of an infrastructure and roads and things of that nature for a new facility became important to the company. That's very true. JM: Within the industry, it became a competitive necessity in your view? KI: Yeah. It became necessary. If you were going to go into an area, you needed to have some concession on taxes for the first few years. It's kind of interesting. One of those principles--. When we were proposing [to build] a mill in Blytheville, Arkansas, Bill Clinton flew over to Charlotte and sat down. We said we needed--. There were five items. I went through them one, two, three, four, five. It included a tax concession, and it included some infrastructure. It included some other things. He agreed to all of them except one, which was a tax relief for companies that were in Arkansas. JM: I have to ask. It's a bit of an aside, but I'm curious. What was your measure of the young Bill Clinton -- young Governor Clinton -- in those years? KI: I was very impressed with him when he came over with one security guy and a private plane and came to our offices, which were over on Randolph Road here. We sat down, and in about an hour it was pretty well resolved. He had to get certain legislators, legislative things through. He said, “I can do that.” And that was it. It took a little longer, the second plant we built there. It took a little bit longer. I went over there and said, “We're coming here.” I remember one story about him. He said that -- when I was there -- he said, “You know you're lucky. As the Chairman of a corporation, you can get things done rapidly. You don't get anything done rapidly in government.”